24 December 2014

GIRLS by AIDX PAREDES: Camille Pilar Goes Home to the Sea

Text and Photography by Aidx Paredes

Over ball jars of fruit juices and cookies, with a setting sun at the quirky, surfer haven, Flotsam and Jetsam, I sat with Camille Pilar to talk about impulsive decisions, starting anew, changing career paths, and being a girl.

This is my truth: I’ve spent many minutes looking for other people’s words and works about Camille Pilar. I gave up looking when I realized her words are the only ones that matter.

In her new blog, SEA-YOU.PH, she shares her stories with the sea and only a few sentences about herself. She writes: “Hi, I’m Camille. I also go by Pilar, which is my last name. I used to go by a lot of other names because I didn’t believe in my real one. I was Pedrosa for that love affair with poetry. Kamyl as a challenge to orthography. And now here we are — just as I am spelled, a capital homecoming to the C (the sea). There’s not a day that I don’t thank surfing for bringing me back to me.”

From the corporate world to classrooms, Camille Pilar spent many years looking for herself in different places. A swirl of events led her to where she is now. 

This is her truth: “I was in a position where I was stuck. I wasn’t happy and there’s nothing left to do. I went on a whim. It was very impulsive. I thought of how I miss the sea, being a beach baby growing up in Cebu. Fast forward to New Year, 2012 going to 2013, I went here [La Union] and took surfing lessons, and then there’s no turning back.

Before, I’d just call it a beach trip. Right now, I don’t know what do in a beach without the waves.” 

After a year of weekend trips going to San Juan, La Union, she’s now taking the chance to call the surf city her new home. From Tuesdays to Sundays, she’s serving and brewing coffee at the El Union Coffee from 9:00AM to 3:00PM and again at 6:00PM to 9:00PM, and during her break time she’s surfing.

You’ve mentioned about letting go, starting anew. I just want to ask, is there something new in your life? Something that you’ve done for the first time. 
I would consider the biggest achievement I’ve made to be coming to know success not as a state or a position, or not a certain number in your bank account. Success is that ready answer, that ready yes whenever someone asks you, “Are you happy?” Whenever someone asks me that question, I can readily say yes. I love that feeling because I’ve never felt it anywhere else before. It’s very liberating because before, if I talk about happiness with my colleagues and classmates, my answers would always come with a but. It would always be, “Yes I’m happy but I’m still waiting for the right time.” Or “Yes, but there has to be something more.” Right now, whenever someone asks me that question, all I can give is a loud, resounding yes.

It’s one of the most important changes in my life right nowI became more bright and positive about life. You’ve known me as Pilar Pedrosa Pilar, that sad, silly girl who says, “I have so many dreams, yet I’m trapped in a bell jar.” Very Sylvia Plath, one who can see the beauty of the world but cannot go out. But you can actually go out and break through the glass.

Are you the same person as you were before surfing?
Yes and no.

No, because it’s obvious that I’m smiling more, laughing more, and carrying a more optimistic tone. Now, for once, I’m physically fit and using my body to actually do some sort of sport. I’m not a sporty type, that’s why I became a reader and writer who is used to being stuck at home reading all these books, which is good. I still love reading and all that but now, I’ve learned that reading is not enough. For you to be a real book lover, for you to really love literature, you also have to understand that you don’t let the worlds you love stay in the pages of a book. You actually also have to go out. You also have to be pushed to travel, for you to see for yourself what made those writers write about the things they wrote about.

The parts of me that have stayed the same are, well, I’ll always still be the girl who’s always longing for the sea and displacement. That’s why my tattoos are of ships and birds because even before, the theme of my life is to be placed and to find place. I’ve uprooted myself so many times. I’ve tried living here, in Cebu, in Manila, in San Francisco, in Bicol.

Let’s put ourselves in the now. If there is something that you would keep doing for the rest of your life, would it be surfing or writing? 
Surfing, I can only do up to a certain age, but I will certainly surf until my body permits me to. Writing, I think, I will die while constructing a sentence in my head and I just wish I could finish that sentence before I draw out my last breath. That’s me, I will always be that girl who will think in words. I will always experience the world best when I write about it. I’ll always learn from an experience more, I can always extract lessons or insights, only after I’ve written about it.

I’m neither a musician nor a visual artist. The way I allow myself to experience the world and the way I let others experience the world through me, is through words.

Give us five things you’ve learned from the sea.
Never underestimate the sea. There are days when it’s completely perfect and friendly but do not underestimate it, for in the grand scheme of things, you’re just a speck in the ocean. Although the sea can give and give, but it can also take away.

The sea makes you everything natural. Living by the sea, your understanding of time would be through low tides and high tides It has brought me back to natural things like weather, time, tide, temperature and the direction of wind. These things, you cannot think about when you’re stuck in the city.

The sea is beautiful. There are days when it’s messy, and when you look at the shore break it’s still beautiful. There are also days when it gives you the perfect sunset with elegant red, orange, and purple hues. That’s what beauty is, it changes but it is inherently the same.

There’s no such thing as a bad surf day. There really just isn't.

The secret to life is to want less. Moving to the sea taught me to just bring the bare minimum, the essentials.

The world right now is pushing equality. For you, how does it feel to be a girl?
Right now, I would say that it feels damn great to be a girl. I don’t want girls to be daunted by the fact that there are certain pressures that come along with being a lady, like expectations and standards. There are a lot of issues about street harassment, and I’ve experienced that. Not only I’m a girl, but I’m a girl covered in tattoos, of course people would carry judgment. When they look at you, they have a certain impression embedded in their heads, and you just let them be and then stick around long enough for them to change their minds about you.

Nothing comes close to that feeling of seeing people suddenly change their mind about you. At first, they think I’m this dangerous or intimidating because I’m covered in tattoos but all they have to do is to talk to me and realize that I’m not close to the person that they think I am.

I think for women, now, they just have to embrace the fact that they’re women. They just have to let that out what being a woman means to them. If you’re a kikay kind of woman who likes to take selfies, go on and take your selfies. If you’re this rebellious chick, or this proper, polite, English girl who likes tea and cats, go on and be that girl. That’s what you are and there is nothing wrong with that. And it’s not only to girls, it’s for everyone.

I think the very root of oppression is having that fear to be who you are. It’s always easy to point fingers and say there’s oppression because another group is oppressing me. It’s easy to call who the bad guys are, and it’s harder to look within yourself and find that I’m oppressed because I let them oppress me. I’m giving the people the power to lord over me what I should do and who I should be.

I wish for women and girls today to just know that the power for others to hurt them is within them. So don’t give anyone the power to hurt you.

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